In September, the Hockey Commissioners’ Association (HCA), the governing body that represents all 11 Division I hockey conferences, announced it would delay the start of the season back from early October. But beyond that, the rest of the planning for the season was left up to the conferences to decide.
Though Atlantic Hockey and the NCHC have both announced their respective schedules, Hockey East is still deliberating, though a framework is beginning to take shape. As of now, the conference is hoping to begin play in late November, according to UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh.
“We’re still shooting for a late November start,” he said. “From the call I was on the other day and from the feedback I got the other day from the athletic director’s call, it’s looking like a late November start.”
Nov. 20 has been floated as one possible date games that could begin but Cavanaugh cautioned that plans are still fluid and are subject to change at a moment’s notice.
“That’s a goal we all have but it’s not etched in stone,” he said of starting on Nov. 20.
Whenever the season does begin, Hockey East schools will all forgo a non-conference schedule. Instead, the league will begin conference play immediately in order to get as many games in around exams and before the holidays.
UConn will play a home and home series with each conference member except for Vermont and Maine. The Huskies will travel to Burlington for two games while the Black Bears will come to Connecticut for a pair.
Despite no out-of-conference matchups, not every game against Hockey East teams will count towards the league standings, though. If the season does begin on Nov. 20 and ends after the first weekend of the March, that would allow for three to four “flex” weekends.
Those would tentatively feature meetings between Hockey East schools that would be treated as non-conference games (i.e without points awarded towards the standings) but could be replaced by any potential conference matchups that may get postponed due a COVID outbreak, for example.
Once a schedule is locked in, UConn plans to begin full-team practices. The Huskies originally planned on starting those earlier this week but decided against it. Now, the hope is to begin them next week “as long as everything goes well,” Cavanaugh said. To this point, the team has been working out in two, 12-player pods.
“It allows us to spread out among different locker rooms and also mitigate situations where there are positive cases,” Cavanaugh said of the pods. “There are two groups so we have two goalies in each group which is good.”
There are benefits to the current set-up, though. Since the team couldn’t return to campus for summer workouts, Cavanaugh is enjoying the opportunity to work with players on an individual level before the build-up to the season begins.
“I think it’s been great,” he said. “Basically, it’s like starting your season in July where you can just work with guys individually. We can’t do that now but if we could, that’s what it would be like. I think it’s been cool to have more of that one-on-one time with different players.”
With so much still up in the air and subject to change at a moment’s notice, mental toughness has been the main message of the preseason. So far, the players have taken everything that’s been thrown at them in stride.
“I’ve been pretty proud of them, I really have,” Cavanaugh said. “I just think it’s been such a tough fall. We were preparing for it and said ‘Hey, we gotta be mentally tough, we gotta be able to handle curveballs’ and then different stuff gets thrown at you that you’re not expecting. Protocols change and you have to be able to handle it. I’ve been really proud of the way they’ve handled it.”
The freshmen in particular have been dealt a particularly tough hand. The transition to college hockey is hard enough without a global pandemic. But regardless, Cavanaugh said all six newcomers have been what the coaching staff expected.
“I think they’ve done as well as they possibly could’ve,” Cavanaugh said of the freshmen. “They’ve really done a nice job. I’ve been happy with the way they’ve acclimated themselves to college and transitioned into the team.”
At the end of the day, everything still comes back to hockey. Even with all the schedule flux, pods and general chaos thrown their way, Cavanaugh knows there can’t be any excuses once his team finally takes the ice.
“It’s an unconventional year and we have to be ready to play when the puck drops,” he said.
UConn will have two new members of its staff this season. Paul Devlin took over as Director of Hockey Operations from Morgan Hall, who had previously held the position since Cavanaugh took over the program. However, Hall won’t be completely leaving the program. He’s expected to continue to be involved with the new hockey arena project.
Devlin comes from a baseball background, having played at UNC in the ‘80s and spending a short time in the Boston Red Sox system. After that, much of his professional career has been in front of a camera as a sportscaster at Fox Sports Net in both Atlanta and Arizona as well as NESN.
Meanwhile, Vince Stalletti replaced Matt Michno as goaltender coach. Stalletti previously coached at Division III UMass-Darmouth and played at Division III Johnson & Wales College in Providence. As is the case with most collegiate goaltender coaches, Stalletti is only a volunteer assistant which means he’ll work with UConn’s four goalies around twice a week for 30-45 minutes in addition to watching practice tape.